Suicide bombers, gunfire and rocket fire reported at mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi during Eid al-Fitr festivities
Islamic State claimed responsibility for a triple suicide attack on Thursday evening near a Shia mausoleum north of Baghdad that killed at least 35 people and wounded 60 others, according to Iraqi security sources.
The attack on the mausoleum of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Hadi reignited fears of an escalation of the sectarian strife between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis.
The Shia form a majority in Iraq but Sunnis are predominant in northern and western provinces, including Salahuddin where the mausoleum is located.
Prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia, the Peace Brigade, to deploy around the mausoleum near Balad, about 58 miles (93km) north of Baghdad. Sadr’s militia is also deployed in Samarra, a nearby city that houses the shrine of Imam Ali al-Hadi, the father of Sayid Mohammed whose mausoleum was targeted on Thursday.
The attack on the shrine was the first of its kind in recent years. Shia sites were frequently targeted by the forerunners to Isis, particularly when the organisation was run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who incited sectarian war against Iraq’s majority sect through a spate of similar bombings.
The strike in Balad is being seen in Baghdad as another indication that after losing much of the territory it has held for the past two years, Isis is once again trying to inflame tensions by attacking soft civilian targets and holy sites.
Last Saturday’s attack on a shopping district in the central Baghdad suburb of Karada was seen as another throwback to an even more deadly era. Security officials believe that two Isis units that were responsible for devastating bombings in Baghdad in 2009 have been reformed to conduct a series of new atrocities.
Militias and Iraqi security forces have invested enormous resources in protecting Shia shrines across Iraq and the breach of the mausoleum site in Balad was on Friday already causing ramifications, with rival militias Asa’ib ahl al-Haq and Saraya Salam both accusing each other of security lapses.
On Friday the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the sacking of a host of senior security officials in Baghdad, including the general responsible for the capital’s security. The move follows the resignation of the interior minister in the wake of the Karada bombings.
A 2006 bombing destroyed the golden dome of the shrine of Ali al-Hadi and his other son, Imam Hasan al-Askari, setting off a wave of sectarian violence akin to a civil war.
Pictures posted on social media showed a fire burning in the market located at the entrance of the Sayid Mohammed mausoleum. It was not clear if the site itself was damaged.